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Remembering Steve Biko


ONE YEAR AGO Tuesday, a young man named Steve Biko died in a South African prison. Biko was a man of some stature in the black community, known for his intelligence and his dedicated work against apartheid through the Black Consciousness Movement. Realizing his popularity and the damaging publicity that could result from his jailing, the South African police told the press that the cause of his death was suicide--the result of a hunger strike complicated by a fall from a chair that fractured his skull.

Of course, only the most zealously fanatic believers in the apartheid system could swallow that feeble explanation; soon it was apparent to the entire world that the young leader died as the result of repeated beatings by his jailers.

The tragic circumstances of Biko's death underscore the brutally inhumane, coldly rascist nature of John Vorster's apartheid regime. Biko has become a martyr, a symbol of the growing struggle against apartheid inside South Africa and around the world. We can only hope that the outrage over his death hastens the day when the black majority in South Africa rules itself.

As with many foreign affairs, it is all too easy to dismiss Biko's murder as something distasteful, but far away. The South African tragedy, however, extends far beyond the borders of the bantustans such as Soweto; in fact, through American companies with operations there, it reaches all the way back to investors in this country, up to and including Harvard. The presence of these U.S. dollars propping up Vorster's government--directly or even indirectly--mocks the concepts of justice and equality.

LAST SPRING, despite the largest out-pouring of student political sentiment in several years, the Harvard Corporation refused to divest itself of its holdings in companies operating in South Africa. It also declined to get rid of its stock in banks lending money to the Vorster regime, or even to sponser shareholder resolutions urging companies to withdraw. The inspiring protests of the last week in April--a week that saw crowds of up to 3500 students united in protest--may have sputtered with the advent of reading period, but the issue is far from resolved.

As the Corporation's policy stands, that group will, through the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, spend the next few months reviewing the operations of 50 to 60 firms on a case-by-case basis. This agonizingly deliberate review may or may not yield a moral decision. In its April report the Corporation decried apartheid as "repugnent and inhumane." We hope the members of the Corporation will find the strength to back up this conviction, and take a strong moral stand where they have so far found it inconvenient to do so.

We urge all students--those who are returning and those who are new to Harvard--to support the anti-apartheid movement vigorously. We also encourage unflagging support for the Southern African Solidarity Committee and the United Front in this work against this great evil. The task will not be easy, and with an important but unfortunately unexciting slate of case-by-case reviews in the offing, it will take real dedication. But the memory of Steve Biko and all he stood for compels us to do no less. It may be a new year, but the goal remains the same: Harvard and U.S. dollars out of South Africa.

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